UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Joan La Barbara's early explorations of the voice Ripley, Samara


Experimental composer and performer Joan La Barbara treats the voice as a musical instrument. Through improvisation, she has developed an array of signature sounds, or extended vocal techniques, that extend the voice beyond traditional conceptions of Western classical singing. At times, her signature sounds are primal and unfamiliar, drawing upon extreme vocal registers and multiple simultaneous pitches. In 2003, La Barbara released Voice is the Original Instrument, a two-part album that comprises a selection of her earliest works from 1974 – 1980. The compositions on this album reveal La Barbara’s experimental approach to using the voice. Voice Piece: One-Note Internal Resonance Investigation explores the timbral palette within a single pitch. Circular Song plays with the necessity of a singer’s breath by vocalizing, and therefore removing, all audible inhalations and exhalations. Hear What I Feel brings the sense of touch into an improvisatory composition and performance experience. In October Music: Star Showers and Extraterrestrials, La Barbara moves past experimentation and layers her different sounds into a cohesive piece of music. This thesis is a study of La Barbara’s treatment of the voice in these four early works. I will frame my discussion with theories of the acousmatic by Mladen Dolar and Brian Kane and will also draw comparisons with Helmut Lachnemann’s musique concrète instrumentale works. In doing so, I will chart La Barbara’s experimentation and use of the voice in its original function. Specifically, the voice as the first means expression, not requiring text or traditionally musical elements, but as an communicative wordless instrument.

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